It was so much better than it had any right to be.
Transformers (2007 – present) is a franchise that I think people always wanted to believe in and have fun with, and that’s why they put up with all of those terrible sequels. I mean, I sat through the first two with mild amusement, but I had to draw the line at the later ones. I think dinosaurs and King Arthur eventually showed up? Nonsense. Anyway, there was always an underlying layer of hope that the franchise would get better and I believe that with Bumblebee (2018), that hope may have just become a reality.
The first spin-off in the Transformers franchise, Bumblebee tells the origin story of the titular hero as he arrives on Earth as a scout for the Autobots. There he meets Charlie, played by Hailee Steinfeld, a teenage mechanic who bonds with the robotic hero and teaches him how to communicate through the use of the radio.
You guys, this movie was GOOD. Shockingly good. Sure, it wasn’t the greatest movie of the year, but when you’re living in the shadow of five infamously horrendous movies, it’s surprising when you’re capable of delivering a movie that’s not only bearable, but a shit ton of fun. “Pleasantly surprising” really is the best way to describe Bumblebee. So it starts and within the first few minutes, I’m blown away. I kept thinking to myself, “wow, THIS is how the FIRST Transformers movie should have started:” A fun, cool, vibrant, and visually exciting scene of robots fighting on Cybertron. It cleanly sets up the straightforward and concise plot as well as clearly defining the heroes and villains and what they’re fighting for. Bumblebee feels like the faithful, live-action adaptation of The Transformers (1984 – 1987) that fans were hoping for back in 2007, whereas the series they got were loud, mindless, fighting robot movies that just happened to share the same title as the cartoon they grew up with. In everything from the direction, to effects, to writing, you can tell there’s a different hand on the rudder and it’s really fantastic to see. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to watch a Transformers movie that felt like it had been thought about for more than half a minute.
While director Travis Knight deserves his fair share of credit for putting this franchise back on track, the biggest thank you needs to go to screenwriter Christina Hodson. Hodson’s script is brimming with personality, heart, and humour, three key elements that previous instalments were sorely lacking. My hand to God, this movie managed to achieve something I thought impossible for a Transformers movie: It genuinely had me smiling and laughing out loud multiple times. Bumblebee expertly balances humour and heart, most of the time through the use of Steinfeld’s Charlie and her relationship with Bumblebee. While not a revelatory role for the young actress, she infuses the movie with flourishes of youth, energy, and charisma. In every scene that Charlie interacts with Bumblebee, she’s capable of tugging at you heart strings or having you laugh your head off. Again, this movie is just full of surprises!
Another welcome surprise comes in the movie’s villains Shatter and Dropkick (who I was shocked to learn are voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux respectively), and how unlike past villains, they’re actually shrewd and formidable foes. Their plans involve a little more than just screaming orders and blowing things up. But worry not, fans of explosions. Bumblebee not only succeeds in being thoughtful, heartfelt and grounded, but also delivers its fair share of heart-pounding thrills, car chases, and things going boom. It even features the requisite “actor barely stumbling their way through the script” in John Cena. Look, Cena is far from terrible, and thankfully the movie didn’t give him any heavy-lifting acting-wise to do. That being said, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at his less than stellar acting ability. However, Cena is doing his damned best and not only does it show, but adds to the fun of the whole movie. I think I’d take Cena’s questionable acting over the Shia LaBeouf stuttering of yesteryear, any day.
Filled with endearing characters, dozens of laughs, and a soundtrack of 80s hits you’ll be Spotifying on the drive home, Bumblebee is a winning entry in a franchise fans had declared dead a long time ago. Every studio that’s looking to adapt toys and TV shows from decades ago into movies (there’s a fucking Play-Doh movie coming in the next couple of years, I shit you not) need to take note from this movie. More than anything, Bumblebee is a testament to how putting a focus on plot and character can make all the difference. Who would have thought? Finally, if I haven’t yet convinced you to take a chance on this movie, let me leave you with this: It’s essentially a live-action version of The Iron Giant (1999). I repeat, it’s good. Go see it.
Will you be seeing Bumblebee? Did you like any of the other Transformers movies?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!